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Over the first few games of the season, one of the players who has been catching the eyes of people watching the Jets has been Brandon Tanev. Tanev has been a staple of the Jets’ fourth line over the last two seasons, with a breakout year of sorts last season contributing eight goals and 18 points in the regular season and an excellent four goals and six points in 17 playoff games.
He has picked up this season right where he left off, with two points in four games — a goal and an assist — and is a strong part of a trio that Corsica.Hockey’s WAR metrics say is the second-best fourth line in the NHL.
So what is it about Tanev’s game that makes him stand out from the pack? We know it’s not volume of scoring chances — he ranks eighth among Jets forwards there — and we know it’s not scoring-chance creation or playmaking, because he ranks ninth there.
So where does Tanev stand out?
Surprisingly, Tanev is one of the best clean zone-exit options on the Jets, capable of carrying the puck across the blue line more effectively than you would ever expect from a fourth-line guy. Once he has the puck in the neutral zone he’s been closer to average at gaining the offensive zone with possession, but he is among the NHL’s elite dump-in artists.
Dump-ins are mostly seen as a poor option, and they’re certainly not the ideal course of action, especially for players who have the skill to carry the puck across the line, but Tanev is extremely good at not making his dump-ins turn into nothing: 93.7 per cent of his attempted dump-ins get behind both defencemen on the opposing team and 60 per cent of those are immediately recovered, either by him or a teammate before a puck battle even ensues. That’s a high mark for anyone, but especially for the volume that Tanev has dumped it in. He creates four entries that end in possession per 20 minutes off dump-ins, 2.63 of those he recovers himself. Combine those with his 4.38 controlled entries per 20 minutes, and overall Tanev is creating more than eight successful offensive-zone entries every 20 minutes of ice time. The only Jet who has been more successful in this young season is Nikolaj Ehlers, at a hair under 10.
Also interesting is the fact that Tanev’s dump-ins result in a shot on goal more than any other Jets forward and his controlled entries result in a scoring chance more often than anyone but Ehlers, who is the Jets’ most uniquely talented transition player.
Once in the offensive zone, Tanev has been surprisingly good at pulling off dekes to put himself in better shooting position and beat defenders one-on-one — think of his disallowed goal five minutes into the game against the Dallas Stars, for example. Only Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine have attempted or succeeded in more offensive-zone dekes than Tanev thus far.
That ability to change the angle of the puck and move past checkers gives Tanev high-quality shots, which is a rare thing for a fourth-line player. He doesn’t shoot from the slot that often, but when he does it’s usually a good chance.
Tanev’s other area where he’s a major outlier from the rest of the Jets forward group is in his ability to block shots at 5-vs-5. He blocks nearly three times as many shots as the average Jets forward and, contrary to what you may think, it’s not because he’s stuck in the defensive zone a lot.
So far this season, Tanev has spent just 20.9 per cent of his 5-vs-5 ice time in the defensive zone, which is the lowest mark of any Jets forward, and only Scheifele and Kyle Connor have spent a higher percentage of their ice time in the offensive zone than Tanev’s 55.2 per cent, and that’s despite Tanev’s line getting more defensive-zone starts than offensive ones.
All of this is in small sample sizes, and whether Tanev can continue this level of play is definitely questionable, but if you were wondering what he was doing exactly that makes him look like such a strong player early this season, this is it.
Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data driven analysis of the game. He started writing for the Montreal Canadiens blog Eyes on the Prize in 2010 before taking over managing the site in 2012, turning it into SB Nation’s largest hockey community before he left in 2015 to become an independent contractor using SPORTLOGiQ data. Since then he has written weekly for Sportsnet and RDS, using SPORTLOGiQ’s unique tracking data, while also freelancing for Vice Sports and The Sporting News, contributing to The Point Hockey and hosting his podcast.
Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.